Bethesda, Md.-Glen Zebarth, DVM testified before the FDA's TSE Advisory Committee saying that no evidence indicates that CWD is a threat to humans or cattle. Zebarth also spoke of the industry's recommendation that the USDA ban the sale of elk products from CWD-infected herds, a measure the elk industry has voluntarily implemented.
"To allay consumers' concerns, we recommended a federal ban on the sale of products from infected elk," said Zebarth. "And to provide incentive for elk ranchers to participate in the CWD eradication program, we are also asking for indemnity." Indemnity would be provided to ranchers whose herds require depopulation in the unlikely event that they are infected with CWD.
Zebarth outlined the proactive and responsible approach the elk industry has taken in eradicating CWD, which includes the development of proposed regulations, financial support of ongoing scientific research, the search for better diagnostic tools and the quality processing and manufacturing of elk products.
Based on the North American Elk Breeders Association's (NAEBA) recommendations to the United States Animal Health Association, many states in the U.S. and provinces in Canada have instituted mandatory and voluntary testing and monitoring programs. A ban on selling meat or velvet products from infected herds is part of the CWD eradication and control program developed by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA). Although the USDA CWD program has not yet been implemented, elk ranchers have voluntarily agreed not to sell antler or meat from infected herds.
Zebarth also spoke of the industry's response when CWD was first discovered at a farmed facility in South Dakota in 1997. Zebarth reported that elk breeders of South Dakota voted unanimously to quarantine and depopulate positive herds. Ranchers of infected herds in South Dakota, out of respect of consumers' concerns, did not sell antler or meat from CWD present herds and instead, voluntarily eradicated their herds.
Products from elk include meat, a high-protein and low fat food, and velvet antler, a dietary supplement that has been used in Asia for more than 2,000 years for a wide range of conditions including joint health, muscle recovery and increased muscular strength. In addition, elk livestock has provided a viable economic alternative to cattle, hogs and chicken.
Chronic wasting disease (CWD), a part of a family of diseases referred to as transmissible spongiform encephalopathies (TSEs), is a disease of the brain and central nervous system of cervids such as mule deer, white-tailed deer and elk. Generally, less than 1% of the wild elk and 5% of wild mule deer in the affected areas are believed to be CWD-positive. Incidences of CWD in farmed elk and deer are even more rare.
CWD disease affects the brain and central nervous system of deer and elk. There is no scientific evidence that antler, muscle tissue or other parts of the animal contain CWD prions.
According to public health officials and wildlife experts, there is no scientific evidence indicating that CWD can be transmitted to humans. In fact, research conducted at the Rocky Mountain Laboratories in Montana, a National Institutes for Health center, has determined a molecular barrier exists that significantly limits the susceptibility of humans, cattle and sheep.
In addition, there is no real-life evidence that CWD can be transmitted from deer and elk to cattle. Although scrapie (a TSE disease) in sheep has been studied and consumed by humans for more than 200 years, it has never crossed the species barrier to humans under natural conditions.
The North American Elk Breeders Association, or NAEBA, is a non-profit organization, founded in 1990 to promote and protect the elk farming and ranching industry. The primary goal of the association is to educate its members and the general public about the rewards and opportunities that are available through participation in the industry as a legitimate diversified agricultural pursuit. NAEBA is recognized by federal authorities as the voice of the industry, and enjoys mutually benefiting association with the Federal Farm Bureau, as well as Allied Industry Status in the United States Animal Health Association. NAEBA serves its members in many ways, including the maintenance of a purebred elk registry. Headquartered near Kansas City, Missouri, NAEBA today has more than 1800 members from the United States, Canada, Mexico, New Zealand and Australia.
Contact: Henry Kriegel, 1-800-201-4443, firstname.lastname@example.org